Governor signs bill for off-track betting, vetoes 17 others New laws treat growth, child pornography.


ANNAPOLIS -- Marylanders won't have to go to the track to bet on a horse soon, thanks to legislation authorizing off-track betting parlors that has been signed into law by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

The governor, completing work on the last of 751 bills passed by the 1992 General Assembly, also signed into law yesterday bills to control suburban growth, to outlaw the possession of child pornography and to protect children from loaded firearms.

But the governor vetoed 17 bills for policy reasons, including one that would have discouraged infertile couples from seeking a surrogate mother and another that would have provided lucrative incentives for state employees to retire early.

The off-track betting bill he signed was a long-sought prize for the state's troubled racing industry. It allows gambling on horse races at several so-called "sports palaces" that would be built around Maryland.

Supporters say that making gambling more convenient for bettors who don't live near a racetrack will help restore health to a financially strapped racing industry.

The governor also signed:

*A controversial Prince George's County ethics bill aimed at putting some distance between political contributions from developers and county zoning decisions. The new law is expected to be the target of a court challenge, possibly within a week.

*Legislation that will permit podiatrists to perform surgery on patients' ankles, but only in a hospital, and under strict guidelines.

*A bill permitting doctors to delegate to unlicensed assistants the authority to take basic X-rays of patients, but only after taking a minimum 30 hours of training and passing an exam.

The governor held a special signing ceremony for the growth control bill, a scaled-down version of a much stronger effort to control suburban sprawl that failed in 1991. The original bill was the product of the governor's growth control commission, which was asked to develop a land-use plan geared to the year 2020.

This year's growth control bill attempts to limit sprawling development by directing counties and cities to follow certain guidelines when adopting land-use plans and development regulations.

The guidelines call for concentrating future construction in suitable areas, protecting environmentally sensitive areas and streamlining regulations on development.

The X-ray bill was a top priority of the state medical society, despite claims by opponents that the law could expose patients to unsafe levels of radiation. Del. John J. Bishop, R-Balto. Co., who led the floor fight against the bill, said the medical society "is becoming a money-maker for doctors, a chamber of commerce for doctors."

Except for the surrogate mother bill, the list of vetoed bills was without surprises. The presiding officers of the House and Senate said it was unlikely the legislature would override any of the vetoes.

Mr. Schaefer said he vetoed the bill making surrogate parenting contracts unenforceable because "I believe it's a legal contract between two people."

A surrogate parent agreement typically states that a woman agrees, for a fee, to be impregnated by artificial insemination with a man's sperm and give the baby up to that man and his wife after birth.

Mr. Schaefer said a law specifically forbidding the practice is unnecessary because a Maryland court probably could find such contracts are unenforceable anyway.

Mr. Schaefer vetoed for the second year in a row a bill sought by state employee unions that would have limited the decision-making power of the secretary of personnel over disciplinary or grievance cases.

He also vetoed three bills sponsored by the dean of the General Assembly, 78-year-old Dorchester County Sen. Frederick C. Malkus Jr. The first would have permitted two women who received doctoral degrees in human development from the University of Maryland -- one of them the wife of his second cousin -- to take the exam to be licensed psychologists.

Psychologists' organizations and the university argued that the course did not adequately prepare students to be psychologists, so Mr. Schaefer vetoed it.

"I've spent a lot of money to get this education, which they now are telling me is not worth anything," said a disappointed Betty Malkus, who said she entered the program with assurances she would qualify for the exam. She said she was thinking of suing, but was not sure whom to sue.

"We'll just have to make ourselves content with being the most overqualified counselors in the state," she said.

The governor also vetoed Malkus bills that would have required land surveyors to notify adjoining neighbors whenever they survey a piece of property, and would have restored to five Eastern Shore counties a mobile Motor Vehicle Administration service cut from the budget to save money.

"These are the most vetoes I've ever had in my life, and I've been there 46 years," Senator Malkus said.

The governor focused attention on his veto of the early-retirement bill, calling the action "unfortunate" but necessary. Hundreds of state employees had expressed interest in the bill, many of them delaying their decisions on whether or when to retire to see if he would sign it into law.

Although it was billed as a cost-effective way to trim the work force and save at least $15 million in salaries and fringe benefits a year, Mr. Schaefer said the early-retirement program also would have cost $39 million in added pension expenses over the next five years.

"The second reason is that the Cabinet secretaries said it would be devastating to their staffs. Many of the top people in the state would be eligible for retirement and undoubtedly would retire," he said. The bill would have required that 60 percent of the positions vacated by early retirement remain unfilled.

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